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State v. Keasling

Court of Appeals of Iowa

December 20, 2017

STATE OF IOWA, Plaintiff-Appellee,
v.
RICKY KEASLING, Defendant-Appellant.

         Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Wapello County, Myron L. Gookin, Judge.

         A defendant appeals his conviction for first-degree murder and first-degree burglary.

          Alfredo G. Parrish of Parrish, Kruidenier, Dunn, Boles, Gribble, Gentry, Brown & Bergmann, L.L.P., Des Moines, for appellant.

          Thomas J. Miller, Attorney General, and Sharon K. Hall, Assistant Attorney General, for appellee.

          Heard by Vogel, P.J., and Tabor and Bower, JJ.

          VOGEL, PRESIDING JUDGE.

         Ricky Keasling, convicted of murder in the first degree and burglary in the first degree, asserts his trial counsel was ineffective for failing to object to the felony-murder instruction, failing to seek an eyewitness-identification instruction, and failing to obtain an eyewitness expert. Further, Keasling asserts the district court erred in excluding a witness from testifying at trial, or in the alternative, trial counsel was ineffective for failing to timely disclose the witness. For the reasons stated herein, we affirm his conviction.

         I. Background Facts and Proceedings

         Darrell Teeter was murdered on August 11, 2014, at the same location where he lived and worked, the Main Street Bait Shop in downtown Eldon. The bait shop was in the front of the building, and Teeter's residence was in the back. Teeter had been ill and undergoing dialysis a few days a week, and he had been prescribed hydrocodone for chronic pain.

         A few days prior to his death, Teeter's friend, Peter Saner, stopped by the bait shop in the morning on his way to work to wake up Teeter. Upon waking, Teeter discovered his cash drawer was empty and his hydrocodone pills were missing. Teeter reported the theft. Teeter remarked to Saner, "the Keasling boy" had asked him for hydrocodone but Teeter did not have any at the time. On August 10, Teeter was awakened by someone pounding on his door at approximately 3:30 a.m. The pounding stopped once Teeter turned on his lights.

         On August 11, Saner stopped by the bait shop just before 7:00 a.m.; he knocked on the door but received no answer. He walked around the back of the shop and found a window open and the air conditioning unit still running, but the unit was laying on the floor. He could see Teeter lying on his couch. Saner climbed through the window, observed Teeter's body, and called 911. While waiting for the police to arrive, Brad McClure drove by, and Saner handed him the keys to a skid loader for a job Saner was working on.

         Investigators found the living room to be in complete disarray with empty bottles of hydrocodone. The doors of Teeter's two vehicles were slightly ajar, and papers found inside were disturbed. Police removed the pieces of siding next to the window where the air conditioning unit had been located for fingerprint analysis. The bullet removed from Teeter's head and the shell casing found outside Teeter's window were consistent with a .22 long-rifle bullet. Police questioned Keasling, who denied taking any prescription medications other than his own and who said Teeter once paid one of Teeter's workers in hydrocodone pills instead of money. Keasling also said he had been in the bait shop to buy fishing supplies and had performed construction work for Teeter, but he had never been in the back, residential portion of the building.

         Several witnesses provided pieces of information to the investigators. Upon learning of Teeter's death, his friend, Jim Knaak, told the police that Teeter said Keasling had been offering to buy hydrocodone pills from Teeter. William Hilliard spoke to police about his observations on the night in question, as he was on a walk that evening on the bike path near the bait shop. Hilliard had observed a pickup truck hauling concrete construction equipment and had memorized the license plate. Seth Yochum indicated he observed Keasling drive his truck near the bait shop in the early morning hours of August 10, park the truck, and walk in the direction of the bait shop. Additional evidence linked Keasling with a .22 pistol. Witnesses testified they heard gunshots near the river approximately two weeks prior to Teeter's death and observed a white pickup truck similar to Keasling's work truck, which he used to haul concrete equipment. When police investigated the location where witnesses heard gunshots, they found six spent .22 pistol casings.

         Police executed a search warrant on Keasling's person and his grandmother's house, where Keasling resided. They found approximately fourteen hydrocodone pills on his person, some stamped M366 and others stamped M357. Pills marked M366 were later found at Teeter's bait shop. Fingerprint testing and analysis revealed Keasling's fingerprints at the bait shop. Specifically, Keasling's prints were found on two pieces of aluminum siding next to the window where the air conditioning unit had been located, one pill bottle next to Teeter's television stand, one pill bottle from the living room, and another pill bottle from behind the counter of the bait shop. Additionally, Keasling's prints were found on papers located inside Teeter's car and truck.

         On January 2, 2015, Keasling was charged with first-degree murder, in violation of Iowa Code sections 707.1 and 707.2(1)(a) or (b) (2014), and first-degree burglary, in violation of Iowa Code sections 713.1 and 713.3(1)(b) or (c). Trial began May 10, 2016, and the jury returned guilty verdicts on both counts. On June 10, 2016, Keasling filed a motion for new trial and motion in arrest of judgment. The motions were denied. Keasling was sentenced to life without parole for first-degree murder and twenty-five years for first-degree burglary, to run concurrently.

         Keasling appeals.

         II. Standard of Review

         We review ineffective-assistance-of-counsel claims de novo. State v. Ondayog, 722 N.W.2d 778, 783 (Iowa 2006). To establish a claim of ineffective assistance of counsel, the defendant must prove by a preponderance of the evidence: (1) trial counsel failed to perform an essential duty and (2) prejudice resulted from this failure. State v. Lane, 743 N.W.2d 178, 183 (Iowa 2007) (citing Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668, 694 (1984)). Claims of ineffective assistance of counsel raised on direct appeal are generally preserved for postconviction-relief proceedings for the development of a sufficient record and to allow the attorney an opportunity to defend his or her actions. See State v. Allen, 348 N.W.2d 243, 248 (Iowa 1984). However, where the record on appeal is sufficient to allow us to determine that either prong of an ineffective assistance claim is lacking, we may decline to preserve the issue and may instead address the claim on direct appeal. State v. Brown, 656 N.W.2d 355, 364 (Iowa 2003).

         We review the record to determine if the court abused its discretion in excluding a witness as a sanction for failure to comply with the disclosure of a witness. State v. Babers, 514 N.W.2d 79, 82 (Iowa 1994). The sanctions are discretionary and will be reversed only if the trial court abuses its discretion. Id. An abuse of discretion will not generally be found unless the party whose rights have been violated suffered prejudice. Id.

         III. Ineffective Assistance of Counsel

         A. Felony-Murder Instruction

         The district court instructed the jury it could convict Keasling of first-degree murder if it found either he acted willfully, deliberately, premeditatedly, and with the specific intent to kill Darrel Teeter or he killed Teeter while participating in the crime of first-degree burglary.[1] See Iowa Code §§ 707.2(1)(a) (premeditated killing), 707.2(1)(b) (killing while participating in a forcible felony), 702.11 (providing "[a] 'forcible felony' is any felonious child endangerment, assault, murder, sexual abuse, kidnapping, robbery, arson in the first degree, or burglary in the first degree").

         Keasling claims his trial counsel should have objected to instructing the jury on the felony-murder alternative because the evidence at trial established only a single act caused injury to Teeter, which also caused his death. Because first-degree burglary may be committed when a person inflicts bodily injury on any person, Keasling asserts the act of shooting Teeter was the same act as contained in the predicate felony. See Iowa Code § 713.3. To support his argument, Keasling relies on the following cases: State v. Heemstra, 721 N.W.2d 549, 557 (Iowa 2006) (holding felonious assault of willful injury could serve as the predicate offense for felony murder only in certain circumstances); Goosman v. State, 764 N.W.2d 539, 514 (Iowa 2009) (holding federal due process did not require retroactive application of Heemstra); State v. Millbrook, 788 N.W.2d 647, 650 (Iowa 2010) (finding the defendant committed an assaultive act sufficiently independent of the firing of the gun that resulted in the victim's death); and State v. Tribble, 790 N.W.2d 121, 129-30 (Iowa 2010) (upholding the conviction because substantial evidence supported a jury finding that head trauma and asphyxia were caused by separate acts).

         Our court has dealt with the issue of merger in the context of the ...


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